Cloud computing involves the outsourcing of a network of remote computers and servers from a provider of cloud computing services. It also pertains to the provision of various services such as computer processing capabilities, database storage, applications, and other information technology resources via the internet. The concept allows individuals and organizations to use the information technology resources of service providers with the need to build and maintain physical networks of computers. Cloud computing services essentially present these resources as a utility similar to water and electricity.
Pros: Applications and Advantages of Cloud Computing
1. Provides Cost Savings For Individuals and Organizations
One of the advantages of cloud computing is that it is relatively more inexpensive than building and maintaining physical IT infrastructures. The cost savings stem from the fact that providers have the economies of scale to provide IT infrastructures remotely. Individuals and organizations need not invest in purchasing and installing hardware and software products. There is also no need for them to spend on maintaining their physical IT resources.
Several studies have explored the cost-effectiveness of cloud computing. P. Kudtarkar et al. used the cloud services from Amazon for the computational requirements of genomics research to determine how much cost research organizations could save from foregoing localized computer processing. Results revealed an estimated cost savings of at least 40 percent less when compared to building, using, and maintaining a physical IT infrastructure.
Researchers K. Kawatra and V. Kumar analyzed the cost difference between on-premise IT capabilities and cloud computing in educational institutions using a classroom laboratory setup to conduct tests and gather data. Their findings revealed that cloud computing incurred total savings of USD 1.2 million for one year and USD 393,598.00 for a three-year period. These cost savings stem from fewer recurring costs and less upfront costs.
Individuals and small organizations with limited financial capabilities and IT competencies can also benefit from cloud computing. This helps in lowering the barrier to entry for use cases that require IT capabilities. Services such as web hosting and virtual private networks are the most common examples. Even large organizations such as Netflix and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration use the cloud computing services from Amazon.
2. Location Independence Through Online-Enabled Access
A remote access to hardware and software resources promotes location independence. A more specific advantage of cloud computing is device independence. Several providers enable users to access operating systems and software programs using web browsers or specific apps that are available across a range of desktop and mobile operating systems. These are called thin clients. The software maintenance requirements are less and even nonexistent.
Individuals and organizations are also independent from the physical limitations of native IT infrastructures and resources. It is important to reiterate the fact that cloud-based hardware and software can be accessed from a location where there is an internet connection using a compatible device. This translates to specific applications such as telecommuting or remote work arrangements and dispersed and virtual work environments.
Take note that Netflix has benefitted from using the cloud computing services from Amazon Web Services. The video streaming platform has access to servers and data centers located across different parts of the world. This enables it to reach and serve subscribers from different geographic locations. The global dispersion of its servers and data centers also allows it to provide a fast and consistent service irrespective of the location.
3. Makes Technological Capabilities Scalable and Flexible
Another advantage of cloud computing is that it is scalable and flexible. These two are the reasons the service appeals to individuals and organizations of various sizes and different information technology requirements. Several providers of cloud computing services offer flexible subscriptions or service plans that take into consideration the different financial capabilities and IT requirements of different market segments.
Startups or small organizations can choose the most economical subscription plan. However, upon deciding to expand their operations or improve their IT capabilities, there is an option for them to upgrade to a high-tier plan or include add-ons to their existing plan to address their newer and advanced IT requirements. Remember that cloud computing is often an easier-to-deploy solution that requires minimal and even zero IT expertise.
Having scalable and flexible IT capabilities has specific benefits. End-users do not need to invest upfront in building high-performing IT infrastructures. Accessing IT resources via the cloud gives them the option to choose the plan that best suits their financial resources and operational requirements. Nevertheless, once better IT capabilities are needed, there is no need for them to acquire the technical competencies needed for implementation
It is also worth mentioning that cloud computing provides different dimensions of scalability. This translates to more options. A service provider that offers a functional scalable solution that allows its customers to enhance their IT capabilities through the addition of other features or functionalities with minimal effort. A provider can also provide a load scalable solution that allows the expansion or contraction of resource utilization.
4. Provides the Benefits or Advantages of Service Outsourcing
An individual or organization choosing to avail of cloud computing services from a provider also absorbs the benefits of outsourcing. One of the advantages of outsourcing IT capabilities via a cloud computing service is that it provides end-users with access to all relevant resources that are critical in building and improving their competitive advantage. Amazon and Microsoft have competent experts who can provide actual use-case solutions.
OpenAI has outsourced its computing requirements from Microsoft Azure. This artificial intelligence research laboratory has been training foundation AI models and other end-user AI models using the IT infrastructure of Microsoft. The same infrastructure has also allowed it to deploy its large language models to various customers and across several generative artificial intelligence applications such as ChatGPT and DALL-E.
Nevertheless, based on the aforementioned, another benefit of cloud computing mirrors one of the core benefits of outsourcing. Outsourcing IT capabilities from a cloud service provider allows an organization to focus on its core competencies or strengths. This also means letting the outsourced provider address its weaknesses. There is no need for it to hire people tasked to oversee IT resources. This allows it to minimize its costs.
The Cons: Issues and Disadvantages of Cloud Computing
1. Lack of Full Control Over IT Resources and Capabilities
One of the notable disadvantages of cloud computing is that individuals and organizations cannot have full and extensive control over their IT infrastructures and resources. These end-users are dependent on the capabilities of their cloud computing service providers. Different service providers have different capabilities and service inclusions. Providers with more affordable services also tend to have fewer capabilities and inclusions.
American computer security and privacy expert Bruce Schneider explained that customers of cloud computing services have limited customization options. He reminded that these services are cheaper than having local IT capabilities through physical IT infrastructures because features are off-the-shelf or predefined. This means that the main selling point of cloud computing is cost savings at the expense of fewer options and lesser control.
The lack of extensive control also means that end-users have no other choice but to embrace the limitations of their particular providers. A particular customer would be forced to build its operations around the capabilities of a particular provider. The workaround to this drawback is to look for another provider with capabilities or service inclusions that would meet its requirements. This can be a problem for a customer with evolving needs.
Users are also at the helm of their service providers. Open-source software development platform GitHub experienced an outage in October 2016 due to a distributed denial of service attack that targeted its provider of dynamic DNS service. File hosting service Dropbox also suffered an outage in 2017 that took its service offline for several hours and affected millions of its customers due to a problem with Amazon Web Services.
2. Dependence on Stable and Reliable Internet Connection
An individual or organization that uses a cloud computing service needs to have an internet connection. This enables remote access to the IT infrastructure and resources regardless of the location and using compatible devices. However, aside from access to the internet, this connection needs to be stable and reliable. This main requirement means that those in areas with poor or expensive internet service would not benefit from cloud computing.
Outages due to natural or human-made calamities also affect internet access. Take note that even internet service providers are also affected by these calamities. Organizations that are dependent on their IT resources and capabilities but with no solid risk management plan will have no choice but to suspend their operations during these outages. This would translate to possible customer dissatisfaction and additional costs due to possible income loss.
Tasks such as ongoing data processing or operations of software applications would be affected during an internet service outage or even an intermittent internet connection. Individuals or organizations could lose data during this situation. An outage could happen either from the side of an end-user, the end of the cloud service provider, or the side of the internet service provider. Internet connection is the most basic drawback of cloud computing.
3. Established and Emerging Security and Privacy Issues
It is important to reiterate the fact that one of the critical disadvantages of cloud computing is that end-users do not have full control over their IT resources and their entire IT capabilities. This offshoot translates further to having less control over the management of data or the promotion of security and privacy. These users are dependent on the security capabilities and privacy protection adherence of their cloud service providers
Researchers H. Singh et al. pursued a systematic review that identified several and critical security and privacy risks of cloud computing that have the biggest potential to negatively affect organizations and individual users. These include network-level and application-level security issues, portability problems and interoperability risks, susceptibility toward data breaches, data storage risks, and performance and reliability issues.
There are also concerns over access and ownership of data. Some have expressed concern over the fact that providers can access their data or the data of their clients. These providers can also delete or alter these data either due to an accident or in a deliberate manner. There is also an issue about who exactly owns the data. Some providers have vague service agreements. It is crucial for end-users to perform due diligence when selecting a service provider.
Researchers Y. Sun et al. concluded that security and privacy issues remain a significant barrier to the further adoption of cloud computing. Their paper explained that the relationship between cloud services providers and end-users has a significant impact on building and maintaining trust despite the presence of proposed and actional measures or techniques aimed at ensuring the security and protection of data or adherence to privacy standards.
4. Notable Compliance Challenges and Legal Consequences
Another disadvantage of cloud computing is that it forces a particular user to adhere to the compliance requirements of a service provider or expose it to the legal issues of this same provider. All providers of cloud computing services are bound to follow internal ethical standards and greater legal standards pertaining to data privacy and consumer protection. These include norms and specific regulations in different geographic locations.
There are several instances in which organizations experience a drawback due to compliance issues. Parler is an example. Amazon Web Services decided to terminate its agreement with this conservative-oriented social network due to its failure to moderate content that encouraged the U.S. Capitol Riot on 6 January 2021. Parler went offline on January 10. It filed a case against Amazon Web Services but it was later acquired and shut down.
Another example is the U.S. bank Capital One. It suffered a widescale data breach in July 2010 that affected millions of its customers. This breach stemmed from the misconfiguration of a firewall that was hosted on Amazon Web Services. The bank blamed its cloud computing service provider for failing to detect and report the intrusion but Amazon Web Services argued that it was not liable. Capital One was later fined USD 80 million.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Kawatra, K. and Kumar, V. 2018. “Cost Benefit Analysis of Cloud Computing in Education.” International Journal of Business. 27(2): 205-221. DOI: 1504/IJBIS.2018.089112
- Kudtarkar, P., Fusaro, V. A., Deluca, T. F., and Wall, D. P. 2010. “Cost-Effective Cloud Computing: A Case Study Using the Comparative Genomics Tool, Roundup.” Evolutionary Bioinformatics Online. 6(6): 197-203. DOI: 4137/EBO.S6259
- Schneider, B. 2015. “Should Companies Do Most of Their Computing in the Cloud?” Schneider on Security. Available online
- Sing, H., Manhas, P., Maan, D., and Sethi, N. 2016. “Cloud Computing Security and Privacy Issues: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Control Theory and Applications. 9(10): 4979-4992. Available online
- Sun, Y., Zhang, J., Xiong, Y., and Zhu, G. 2014. “Review Article: Data Security and Privacy in Cloud Computing.” International Journal of Distributed Sensor Networks. 10(7): 190903. DOI: 1155/2014/190903